Energy Conservation through Building Intelligence

By John Bartelink

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

The terms “energy efficiency” and “energy conservation” often get used interchangeably, but they are really two different ideas. Energy efficiency is using less energy to provide the same service. Energy conservation is reducing or going without a service to save energy. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has more to say on the difference, but here we’re going to focus on energy conservation.

At Wood Harbinger, we’ve been actively researching new strategies and devices that can enable better energy conservation. One idea that’s really caught our attention is the potential of sensor-based facility energy analysis. Sensor technology, combined with a robust building model database and analytic software, can allow buildings to collect and synthesize information about their state and environment in real-time, and enable behavioral modification via education and awareness that can help reduce energy consumption.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Buildings Energy Data Book, the buildings sector consumed 20 quads of delivered (site) energy in 2010, costing a total of $431.1 billion. Total primary energy consumption is expected to reach more than 45 quads by 2035, a 17% increase over 2009 levels. Building systems, including space heating and cooling, water heating, and lighting, account for close to 70% of site energy consumption. Locally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts a 2-3% yearly rise in the retail cost of electricity in the Pacific Northwest between 2010 and 2020, a higher rate than the anticipated U.S. average increase.

Energy costs are a huge expenditure for businesses. With rising prices expected and an industry trend towards sustainable energy efficiency and conservation, enabling energy reduction while still meeting operational needs is a business priority for many building Owners and operators. There is real savings potential in gathering real-time, granular data to inform energy optimization in existing commercial and institutional buildings.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

Knowing the current state of operation is half the battle in improving it. Today, facilities rely on historical data or intuition to project the future needs of the building, whether estimating energy usage or scheduling maintenance based on the historical lifetime of parts. I will bet that any building operator that has ever advocated and petitioned for building upgrades has been asked to substantiate the ROI of the upgrade expenditure. Sensor data can offer the evidence to support the need. But data that has not been collected cannot be evaluated and data that has not been analyzed cannot be leveraged.

New sensor technologies for reporting and controlling energy usage are available now and many new advancements are in development. These advances in sensor technology can drive the shift to a more dynamic and real-time understanding of the spaces around us. This innovation is fueling the dropping price point that will enable widespread sensor usage, leading to exponential growth in available data regarding the performance of building elements, systems, human workflow, energy use, and much more than we can envision today.

Awareness Reveals Opportunity

Another part of the problem is lack of awareness by end users about the cost of wasted energy and the amount they can control. However, real-time information, collected, stored, and analyzed, can provide the foundation from which facility stakeholders can glean the sort of business intelligence that can yield automated usage management, actionable results, and continuous optimization of resources, workflow, and user experience.

With the exponential increase in available sensor data we can now collect vast amounts of data on virtually every aspect of building functionality and user experience within the environment. While this may seem daunting or unnecessary, the truth is that analysis of the mountains of data provides deep insight and a clarity on issues that previously was not possible. This clarity leads to options for change that will positively impact the business.

To Boldly Go

Wood Harbinger’s technology group is researching different configurations of sensor-based energy analysis systems that can help facility Owners and operations collect, analyze, report, and visualize key data from building system sensors in real time. This data can be used to optimize facility or team performance, or plan for tenant improvements, renovations, or new facilities by collecting and leveraging key information regarding how current facilities are actually being used, how energy is being consumed, and how workflows such as asset tracking are functioning.

We produced a proof-of-concept demo for our WSSHE’s Semiannual Symposium presentation in April 2014. Our goal is to expand upon this prototype to target outlet-level energy consumption data from real sensors integrated into a working system. Plug loads generally account for about 20-30% of building energy consumption, but that figure can be up to 40-60% in some scenarios. Sensor technology deployed at the power receptacle enables device-specific power usage reporting and automated power management. This data can yield building intelligence insight and establish real-time operational awareness to enable utilization optimization of existing systems and equipment for reduced energy consumption.

 

Follow John on Twitter @JBartelink_WH

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  • […] LED lighting, daylighting, natural ventilation, high-efficiency boilers and chillers, variable frequency drives (VFDs) for pumps and fans, and advanced building controls are common considerations for building system efficiency and conservation. Now’s the time to look into less common options too, like ground source heat pumps, which harness latent Earth thermal energy; superinsulation, which reduces heat loss and gain; rainwater harvesting and using greywater for functions like toilet flushing and irrigation; co-generation and/or energy recovery measures that recapture thermal energy to generate power and to reduce heating and cooling load; and even plug load monitoring and control to reduce energy consumption at the receptacle level. […]

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